(CNSNews.com) - President Obama is trying to prevent thousands of layoff notices from going out a few days before the November election, Sen. Jame Inhofe (R-Okla.) said on Tuesday.
Obama's Labor Department on Monday issued "guidance" to the states, telling them that a federal law requiring advance notice of mass layoffs does not apply to the layoffs that may occur in January as a result of automatic budget cuts known as "sequestration."
Inhofe, appearing on Fox & Friends Tuesday morning, said President Obama, through his Labor Department, "is trying to intimidate businesses, companies, corporations -- not just defense contractors -- into not issuing the pink slips," which are required by federal law 60 days before mass layoffs or plant closings.
"(T)he president doesn't really want all these pink slips going out five days before the election," Inhofe said.
He noted that if the automatic budget cuts kick in on Jan. 2 -- as they will if Congress can't reach a deficit-reduction agreement -- layoff notices would have to go out no later than Nov. 2. The general election is on Nov. 6.
Under the WARN Act -- The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act -- companies with more than 100 employees must give 60 days' notice if there is to be a mass layoff during any 30-day period for 500 or more employees (or for 50-499 employees if they make up at least 33% of the employer's active workforce).
But in guidance issued on Monday, Assistant Labor Secretary Jane Oates said never mind about those pink slips:
"Questions have recently been raised as to whether the WARN Act requires Federal contractors...whose contracts may be terminated or reduced in the event of sequestration on January 2, 2013, to provide WARN Act notices 60 days before that date to their workers employed under government contracts funded from sequestrable accounts. The answer to this question is 'no.' In fact, to provide such notice would be inconsistent with the purpose of the WARN Act."
In its guidance, the Labor Department also noted that "efforts are being made to avoid sequestration," making its occurrence "not necessarily foreseeable."
"You can't not comply with the law," Inhofe said on Tuesday. "Put yourself on the board of directors of Lockheed Martin. If they came out with a class-action suit of a thousand dollars per employee, that would be $120 million. You bet they're going to send out pink slips. And by the way, they don't have to wait until Nov. 2. They can send them out today if they want," Inhofe added.
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) also criticized the Obama administration for the "obvious political aim" of its guidance on the WARN Act.
“At a time when our economy continues to suffer from staggeringly high unemployment, the Obama Administration today took away an important planning tool for Americans who may lose their jobs as a result of the failure of Congress and the White House to address the looming and entirely predictable threat of budget sequestration. Sequestration is currently the law of the land, and our nation's workers have a right to know how these sequestration cuts which begin in January may impact them," the senators said in a news release.
“This decision is especially disturbing in light of the fact that the Department of Labor previously stated in a Fact Sheet that ‘since it has no administrative or enforcement responsibility under’ the WARN Act, it ‘cannot provide specific advice or guidance with respect to individual situations.’ Today the Department did just that, issuing guidance to government contractors not to provide their employees advance notification of potential layoffs as a result of sequestration. This is a troubling turnaround that lays bare the obvious political aim of today’s announcement – avoiding mass layoff notices just days before the November 6th election.
McCain, Ayotte and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) this week are visiting communities in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia and New Hampshire that will be hardest hit by the steep, automatic cuts to the Defense budget.
"The Americans we have met today are asking Republicans and Democrats to do their jobs – to come together to find a solution that avoids this threat to our national security and economy. They are also asking for something that has been totally lacking in Washington – presidential leadership," they said.
Republicans say President Obama has refused to engage in the debate and will share responsibility for the potential loss of one million jobs if sequestration takes effect.
"The Senate Armed Services Committee has received letters from eight defense companies, all of which advise that they will have to lay off thousands – if not tens of thousands – of workers if sequestration occurs. These Americans deserve fair warning that politics in Washington is placing their jobs in jeopardy," McCain and Ayotte said.
Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, if Congress can't produce deficit-reduction legislation by the end of the year, automatic spending cuts will take effect in 2013, split 50-50 between domestic and defense spending. That amounts to a $500-billion cut to the Defense budget over ten years.
In theory, the deep Defense cuts were supposed to be so unpalatable that Democrats and Republicans would come together to find other ways to reduce the deficit.